What about Bob?

What About Bob. Touchstone Pictures 1991.
What About Bob. Touchstone Pictures 1991.

Before watching the movie:

Neurotic characters are a staple of comedy. So is the Double Act. Offhand, I’m not sure how a neurotic man butting in on his therapist’s vacation could go far wrong. It occurs to me though that while I’ve seen Bill Murray play several odd characters, I’m not sure I’ve seen him do neurotic and dependent.

After watching the movie:

As psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin prepares to take his family on a monthlong vacation (where he’ll be doing a Good Morning America interview), a retiring colleague refers a particularly trying patient to him. Bob Wiley can’t touch anything outside his apartment, avoids enclosed spaces, twitches nervously, and is generally a mess. Marvin reluctantly sees him as the last appointment before his vacation, and Bob immediately attaches himself to Marvin. He’s devastated about the man who gave him a breakthrough in the first five minutes leaving him without support for a month, and after being rebuffed over a few calls, he finds out where Dr. Marvin is vacationing, packs up his fish, and drops in. The Marvin family are immediately taken with Bob, who is “crazy enough to be fun”, and spending time with them proves actually therapeutic for Bob. But this blatant, annoying, incessant breech of the Doctor-Patient Relationship has just the opposite effect on Leo, when all he wants to do is prepare for his big, big interview.

Bill Murray doesn’t actually spend much time being neurotic. He establishes himself as such fairly well early on (not as convincingly as some might, but well enough) and then shortly after arriving in New Hampshire, most of that disappears, and he’s just the usual Bill Murray oddball innocent character plus some attachment issues. On the other hand, Richard Dreyfuss really cuts loose with some extreme mania. Dreyfuss walks both sides of the line much better than Bill Murray does. I’m not sure what he’s really known for, but I’ve mainly seen Dreyfuss in comic roles that need a straight-laced guy to eventually go wild, and he seems like the kind of guy who got known for serious stuff and then exploited that reputation for comedy.

The storytelling is a little clumsy on one main point. The story hyped up the big Good Morning America interview much more than it needed to. If it’s mentioned once, it’s a safe bet it’s going to be a pivotal scene. If it’s mentioned twice, the portion of the audience who don’t know the patterns of story so well will probably catch up. However, the characters continued to harp on it again and again. Some of that is justified, since several sequences take place the night before the interview. But it seemed like two minutes couldn’t go by without it being brought up, and I quickly got to the point where I was wanting the movie to get to the interview already, because whatever catastrophe it was setting up would be more fun than the jackhammer foreshadowing.

While it seemed to take forever to get there, that scene is also earlier in the plot than I expected. I was picturing it precipitating the grand finale, but in fact it was the end of act 2 twist. The entire dynamic of the movie shifts after that point, and the last 25 minutes or so feel entirely different. And still I felt like it was waiting too long to get to the big finale of that portion, but on future viewings I’ll probably be able to appreciate the sequences in between the interview and the climax, since I’ll know they’re there.


Watch this movie: with a lot more or slightly less information than I had.

Don’t watch this movie: as an accurate portrayal of psychiatric disorders.

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